Dr. Alaleh "Allie" Selkirk is a licensed clinical psychologist practicing in Beverly Hills, California. Dr. Selkirk specializes in the treatment of mental health problems, and helps people to cope with their mental illnesses. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Selkirk evaluates and treats patients through a variety of methods,... more
Figuring out how to improve sleep is one of the most common issues facing people today.
Sleep is critical to our physical and mental health. And yet, many people struggle to get enough sleep, let alone enough high-quality sleep.
There are many tricks and tips that you can implement to improve sleep. Some are better than others.
One of the best tips is to exercise regularly. More specifically, people benefit when they get moderate exercise at the right time of day. In other words, not too much, not too little, and with attention to timing.
The Goldilocks Approach to Exercise for Better Sleep
The moral of the Goldilocks story is that moderation is best. Too much exercise can lead to physical exhaustion, which might allow you to fall asleep easily but can negatively impact sleep quality. On the other hand, if you don’t get enough exercise, then your body won’t be tired enough to get good sleep.
You want to aim for a happy medium, getting moderate exercise.
The right amount of exercise varies widely depending on a range of personal factors. If you’re someone who does bodybuilding for a living, then obviously you’re going to get more exercise than someone who prefers a sedentary career. That said, if you’re trying to improve sleep, you should aim to get 30-60 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise per day.
When to Exercise to Improve Sleep
Timing is everything when it comes to using exercise to improve sleep. The old way of thinking was that you should never exercise close to bedtime because it would ramp up your energy and make it difficult to fall asleep. However, research indicates that’s not necessarily true.
It’s not entirely false, though, either.
If you do high-intensity exercise within a few hours before bed, then you might have some trouble falling asleep. It may or may not affect the depth of your sleep. However, if you want to improve sleep, then you should save those high-intensity workouts for earlier in the day.
Nevertheless, don’t skip the evening workout. Just make sure that it’s moderate intensity.
Active yoga with a wind-down meditation is a terrific choice to improve sleep. Likewise, a brisk walk after dinner can be a great way to fit exercise into your day and still get a good night’s sleep.
Why Evening Exercise Can Help Improve Sleep
If you have been operating under the belief that working out at night negatively affects sleep, then you might wonder why there are new recommendations to exercise in the evening.
First of all, the research supports it. One Swiss study published in Sports Medicine Journal found that people who engage in moderate exercise within four hours before bedtime will get on average 2% more deep sleep time than people who do not. This small shift can make a big difference since deep sleep is the most restorative.
Moreover, exercising at night balances out many of the problems that lead people to need to improve sleep quality in the first place. (https://introspectionbeverlyhills.com/2018/10/24/tips-for-getting-quality-sleep/)
For example, it helps calm the mind, so you’re not ruminating, worrying, or dealing with nighttime anxiety. Furthermore, daily exercise helps add structure to your day. The more routine your evening schedule, the better your sleep. Finally, it takes you away from the screens. Blue light from electronic devices is one of the leading causes of poor sleep. Thus, if you focus your time and attention on physical activity without those devices, you can quickly reduce sleep problems.
Listen to Your Body
Of course, you are the only one who truly knows what works for you. Keep a sleep journal in which you jot down your daily exercise, nutrition, and stressors, as well as your length and quality of sleep. You may also use apps to track this information.
Delve into your findings to discover what works best for you. You may find that high-intensity workouts during the day combined with moderate activity at night is indeed your key to better sleep. On the other hand, you may discover that changing your nighttime eating habits has more of an impact on sleep than your exercise routine.
Therefore, remember to take advice from research findings but always do what your body says is right for you.
If you continue to struggle with sleep, you might benefit from sleep therapy. I invite you to learn more about it at https://introspectionbeverlyhills.com/sleep-therapy/ .